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Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2012

It’s easy to think that a job offer – any job offer – should be taken immediately, especially in this economy.  Often, though, many of them need a second look before accepting.  They can be more expensive than you think.

Winnie’s* story wasn’t uncommon.  She worked for a small organization that was hit hard by the economy, and when they had to cut their staff, she was among the “last hired, first fired” list of people to be let go.  Her manager let her know that it was no reflection on her skills and that he would write her a recommendation, as well as be a reference for future interviews.

This became less and less of a consolation as time went on and her interviews continued to be merely job interviews, but no job offers.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, Winnie did get an offer from a small nonprofit for a position that wasn’t an exact match, but she viewed it as an exciting growth opportunity.  The organization had created a new position, and she would get to essentially create the direction that the job took.  Mostly, though, Winnie was just thrilled to be employed again – and she was certain that she could fulfill the duties of the position.

A few weeks into her new job, as she was learning the ropes and finishing what seemed to be mounds of HR paperwork, Winnie discovered something that she wished she had paid more attention to during the hiring phase:  her position was grant funded, and only for one year.  She discovered this because she had additional – regular – paperwork that she had to file about her job, to comply with the terms of the grant that funded her job.  The other employees didn’t have to file as many reports, she realized.

Although it was possible that this grant would be extended – or that the organization would find her valuable enough to hire next year in another position – Winnie certainly couldn’t rely upon either of these situations occurring.  She realized that she’d only bought herself one year, and was essentially a temporary employee, still needing to begin another job search!

Winnie and I worked together and made a point to Fix It! by scrutinizing the positions we researched and applied for.  While on the one hand, she was frustrated to have to begin searching once again so soon, she did feel less pressure than before, since she was earning a paycheck while interviewing this time.  She also made a point to network – and asked her manager and other employees for assistance with referrals.

“In a way,” Winnie says, “I had more freedom while searching than typical employees.  Many currently employed people wouldn’t feel free to ask their present employer for help, but since I was under contract for only a year, there was no resentment – or need to hide the fact that I was looking – so I did get referrals and assistance from others.”

Alexandra* is a very shy person, and hates to interview, because, as she puts it, “It means public speaking and bragging about yourself – both things that I’m not good at.”

Alexandra is actually quite good at her job, but often feels that she is overlooked for recognition and/or promotions, as well as taken advantage of by co-workers and managers.  A lot of this stems from her demeanor of being shy, quiet and cooperative.  She works in a mostly male-dominated industry, and those around her often speak up more about their accomplishments.  Alexandra quietly works on her projects without saying much, and frequently gets more than her share of work handed to her.

Eventually, Alexandra’s discomfort at being taken for granted became greater than her discomfort with the interview process, and she approached me about preparing her for beginning a job search.

Several months later, Alexandra had a job offer for something quite a bit better than the conditions she was currently in:  larger organization, better title, pay and benefits – and she accepted.

Upon learning that she was leaving, her manager was shocked.  He conveyed a thinly veiled attempt at congratulating her, followed by an offer to hire her as a part time consultant upon her departure, to “finish up a few things around here.”  He asked her to consider what her rate would be, and she agreed to think it over.

As Alexandra took the weekend to ponder her manager’s offer, she realized that this was actually an attempt to continue making her do the lion’s share of the work in her soon-to-be former office!  Clearly, her manager had known all along that she was essential to getting a great deal of work done – and was worried about her departure.  This way, though, he wanted her to keep doing it – and without being a full time employee?!

Although the additional money was tempting, when Alexandra returned after the weekend, she decided to Forget It! and politely declined, saying, “I really need to focus on my new job and all of its responsibilities, but thanks.”  Her manager was visibly irritated, and she knew that it was because it would be difficult for him to find someone – anyone – not only to do the caliber of work, but also the amount of work that she had been doing.

Alexandra was pleased that this was no longer her problem – and vowed not to repeat the same mistake at her new employer’s.  Taking the lessons she’d learned from talking up her strengths during her interviewing days, she made a point to continue profiling her accomplishments on a regular basis at her new job, too.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Audrey* and Brian* Don’t Feel Appreciated

Nell* and Otis* Discover Surprises in the Workplace

Lynn* and Murray* Felt Nothing Would Change

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, February 8th, 2012

When researching a company prior to an interview, it’s important to go much further beyond “the corporate face” presented on its website.  These days, a great deal more information is available to guide you in your decision.

With such a tight job market, it’s not uncommon for job seekers to spend six to twelve months looking for the right position.  Of course, much of this depends on a variety of factors, including profession, experience, geographic location, time spent each week actively searching, level of networking, etc., but the fact remains that the market is tough.

Because most searches are lengthy, though, I advise all clients to keep track of not only their past applications and interviews, but also to try to remember the listings that they view, because after time, trends or patterns may start to appear.

Magda* had come very, very close a couple of times as a final candidate, but still hadn’t gotten hired after several months.  However, she had learned a great deal after each interview on how to perform better next time, she felt.

Still, there were some losses that stung more than others.  [Organization Y] was one in particular.  Not only had she been a promising finalist, but the Executive Director concluded the interview with a reassuring, “I’ll call you soon,” only to put her off a couple of days . . . followed by a couple more, until finally, he sent her an email, stating, “Thanks for your interest, but we’ve made an offer to another candidate, and they’ve accepted.”

“That one really hurt,” Magda explained, “Not only because I didn’t get the job, but because of the way I was treated.  It seemed obvious in retrospect that I was the second choice, and had just been strung along until they heard back from the one they made the offer to.  Plus, he couldn’t have done me the courtesy of a phone call?”

Less than a year later, Magda was reviewing job listings, as she does weekly, and – much to her surprise – she saw the same job listing for [Organization Y] appear once again!

“As disappointed as I had been last year,” Magda recounts, “That’s how relieved I was not to have gotten the position, upon reading the listing so soon!”  Although still looking, she was ready to tell [Organization Y] to Forget It! this time.

After a few more months of interviewing, Magda did land a job offer with an organization that was a good fit for her, and thinking back to “the bullet I dodged,” she could see how much she had learned over the past year that helped her select a better, more stable place of employment that she felt good about.

At Ned*’s previous place of employment, he had given his all to the company, which left him virtually no time for socializing or networking.  When he was laid off, he found that he had very few contacts or connections to reach out to, because he hadn’t done much to maintain those relationships while he had been working so hard at his job.  One of our first goals was to Fix It! with regard to his social media skills, which would likely translate to any new position he ended up getting.  Regardless, I explained, they would certainly be of use to him while searching for his next job.

Ned made a point to work up a list of the few dozen companies that he most wanted to work for, then he not only followed them on Facebook and Twitter, but also monitored their LinkedIn activity closely.  In addition to tracking the companies’ job listings, Ned worked on building up his various social networks, regularly adding friends, followers and linking with new contacts as much as possible.

Whenever Ned saw a position that he felt was a good match, we reviewed his various networks – particularly LinkedIn – for possible connections to the company, narrowing down to the department, if it was a larger organization.

If Ned was directly linked to someone at the company, he wrote to them for advice on how best to apply (e.g., “To whom do I send my resume?  What is her/his email?”).  If he was a second degree connection, he would ask for an introduction to the right company person, or advice on how to proceed, if they knew.

In many cases, this approach led to expanding Ned’s network even further as he continued his job search.

A great deal of “background research” not found on company home pages was to be gleaned from company social media channels, including peripheral channels, such as employees’ blogs, Twitter feeds and posts to LinkedIn groups that were often fed back through the employees’ personal pages.

This type of up-to-date knowledge helped Ned impress others during interviews, establish more contacts, and ultimately, get hired in his new position.  (He also makes a point to continue networking since having been hired.)

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Eileen* and Frieda* research social media and email marketing

Noah* and Odelia* learn the importance of networking

Nell* and Otis* witness effects of sour workplace networking

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, January 11th, 2012

One of the first things I assess with a client is their career goals – both short- & long-term.  Many people assume that theirs are the same as everyone else’s, but they’re not.  They’re as diverse as those who seek my help.

For quite a few people, making rent is the immediate and overwhelming goal, but for others, having a flexible schedule is more important, so they can attend class, pick up the kids, or tend to their aging parents, etc.  Still others find it necessary to do challenging or interesting work during the day, or be around people  (“I’d just die if I had to do data entry all day!”), while others prefer a more solitary environment and appreciate the absence of gossip and politicking that comes with too many co-workers.  And these categories only begin to cover the clients who are seeking something.

There’s another litany of job seekers who haven’t found the time to do this yet.  It’s too luxurious.  Their current job situation is too hellacious and they can only focus on escaping whatever prison they’ve been sentenced to report to everyday.  It’s more common for this type of worker to seek help from a career counselor, because they are at or near their wit’s end.  These stories are for another days’ column, however.

Many clients are mindful of their careers in addition to their paycheck, location, hours and day-to-day activities, too.  They really do think about “Where will I be in five years?” and “How is this helping me to get there?”  Wherever you’re at in your continuum, it pays to extend the effort so that the next job is better than the last one you had . . . each and every time.  If you take care to ensure this, you are making progress in your career.

Frances*came to me to begin her job search because she felt that she had done all she could in terms of career growth at her present position after several years at the same nonprofit.  Although she had been successful, she didn’t feel that she would really learn much more there, and it was too small an organization for her to move any higher.  Her director was a poor mentor, and although she could probably do her job a bit better, she knew her director wouldn’t be leaving any time soon.  The only way to gain more experience was to leave for someplace larger, with a more experienced staff, she concluded.

It wasn’t long before Frances landed an interview with a nonprofit that was slightly larger.  It was also older and steeped in more tradition, which was promising.  One of the problems, Frances felt, with her current place, was that the organization itself was less than ten years old, and was going through some growing pains.

When Frances and I debriefed after her interview, I pointed out a couple of segments of the conversation that could have been answered better by the organization, so she followed up on these items during her second interview.

Frances wasn’t impressed with the responses to her follow up questions, however.  Instead of hearing about how they wanted her talents to take them to new levels, she consistently felt that they were telling her, “This is our tradition . . . it’s the way we’ve always done it.  We just want more of it.”

Initially Frances had been tempted to accept the position, since they clearly wanted to hire her.  It was more salary and managing a larger department, but looking ahead several years, she felt that she wouldn’t really be able to say she accomplished anything new – just larger versions of the same campaigns she’d already been managing.  She decided to Forget It! and politely declined the position.

“I hope I don’t regret this in the months to come,” Frances told me, knowing that job searches can take a long, long time.

A few months later, Frances was at a large networking luncheon and happened to sit next to the gentleman she had turned down for the position.  They politely exchanged greetings and while catching up, she mentioned that she was still looking for employment and asked how his new hire was working out.

The director told her that he was “okay,” but not nearly as skilled as Frances.  He went on to explain it’s meant he’s had to invest in him attending events such as these networking luncheons and other trainings, in order to bring him up to par.  He expressed regret that they couldn’t work something out so that she ended up working for his organization instead of the new hire.

Then, as the director continued, lamenting about his new hire not being “so bad, though,” Frances saw him motion to the other side of him, to a man who was speaking with another person at the table!  She couldn’t believe it!  The director had been talking in a disparaging tone about his new employee the entire time he was sitting there!  Luckily, she thought, he was otherwise engaged in a conversation, and probably hadn’t heard what his new boss said, but she was still stunned!

“That incredible indiscretion on his part put to rest any doubts I had about my decision to turn down a position working for him – or that organization!” Frances said.  “I’d much rather wait and find the right fit!”

Several more months of interviewing went by for Frances, but ultimately she was able to accept a position with an organization that was much better suited to her and her career goals.  She was able to Fix It! by taking her time and not settling for something that wouldn’t have put her on the path to where she wanted to go.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.

—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Craig* and Debbie* worked for directors with commitment issues, preventing progress

Gwen* and Howard* had bosses whose myopic views left no room for employee input

(When) Should I Start Looking Elsewhere?

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

When an interviewer poses a brain teaser to you, it may seem tedious, but the reasoning behind it is to see how you’d deal with stress on the job. It’s also to assess your personality: are you more optimistic or pessimistic?

Since nobody would come right out and respond, “I tend to be a pessimist,” many interview exercises are designed to reveal such things that you might not intentionally disclose otherwise.  Quite a few candidates are now being asked to take a personality assessment test prior to being considered for employment.  Employers want to see how quickly people think on their feet and out of their comfort zone.

Eleanor* contacted me, frustrated, for help, because her months of job search efforts hadn’t paid off.  What I saw in her results was more promising than she realized, though. She didn’t properly interpret what she received.

Eleanor was looking to return to the job market after having been a stay at home mom for several years.  Although she had been working hard to reestablish contacts and network, it became obvious that she was technologically behind and simply didn’t understand some current protocols in today’s job hunting etiquette.

She showed me an email she had sent to a manager, asking for information about an upcoming recurring seasonal temporary position.  Eleanor mentioned a mutual friend they have in common who recommended her for the position, then attached her resume and asked for the manager to review her resume and a time to meet when they might discuss any suggestions that the manager had to bolster or improve her resume.

In the manager’s response to Eleanor, she told her that the recurring seasonal position probably won’t be renewed for the upcoming season, due to budgetary problems, but that a different job might be available instead (it’s still not confirmed).  She gave Eleanor a name and contact information to follow up with for verification of this later in the month.

Eleanor used this email to demonstrate her disgust with how unhelpful people are, lamenting, “She didn’t even mention my resume!  You’d think she could take some time out of her schedule to have a short meeting with me, wouldn’t you?”

Although Eleanor called to engage my services, it was clear she was ready to Forget It! so I tried to take her step by step through this particular email and show her several positives where she saw negatives.

For one thing, I told her, the fact that she got a response at all is an indicator that someone cared . . . most people wouldn’t bother to write back.  This was clearly a personal response, too – not a form letter.  Another good sign.

Answering Eleanor’s question with “this position isn’t available” was helpful, but the manager didn’t stop there.  She obviously cared enough to offer help about another possible available position (and didn’t have to), along with a name and contact information.  These are all positive indicators.

While it’s true that the manager didn’t respond to Eleanor’s second request about meeting or critiquing her resume, I pointed out that this topic was all lumped into the end of the same paragraph as the first request.  It was obvious by the footer in the manager’s response that the she had replied from her mobile handheld device, which means that scrolling large amounts of text is cumbersome – and downloading a document is virtually impossible.

A better way to have sent this message would have been for Eleanor to break up each idea into its own very short paragraph, and send a link to her online resume, I explained.  Then, the manager could have more easily noticed the second request and connected online to view the resume.

It was as this point that Eleanor confessed that she didn’t have an online portfolio, and we got to work on building her LinkedIn account immediately.  She also upgraded her cell phone to a smartphone and began practicing texting and tweeting, to become more proficient with key words and how to market herself in today’s world.

Eleanor learned two different responses that she used whenever someone posed the “Do you see the glass as half empty or half full?” question to her that helped her seem more thoughtful and unique as well, depending upon her assessment of whether she found the manager to be more creative or analytical:

•     That depends.  If the glass is being filled, then it is half full; if it’s being emptied, then it is half empty.
•     Actually, the glass is entirely full:  half of it with water, the other half with air.

When Eleanor realized more what it’s like from the HR manager’s perspective, we were able to Fix It! and set her up on several interviews, until ultimately, she got a job offer with a company that was a good fit for her.

Changing her tactics – and mindset – helped Eleanor develop better interview skills and portray a more confident, talented candidate to each hiring manager she met with thereafter.  She didn’t just say she had a more positive outlook.  She actually found one, and it showed.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Shelby* and Tisha* know that every interview can be a learning experience

Yvonne* and Zachary* have to deal with the unexpected during their interviews

Olive* learns about office politics and the importance of networking

Fix It Or Forget It?

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

Employers have countless applicants per position, so they can be much more selective than ever about whom they select.  When does “discriminating” become “discrimination,” however . . . and what can be done about it?

Arthur* worked for a large company and had survived a few rounds of layoffs, but it was unsettling to him to watch various people around him lose their jobs – friends, acquaintances and strangers combined.  Perhaps worst of all, though, was the manner in which some of the RIFs were handed down.

Of course, it’s never pleasant to lose one’s job, but Arthur felt that there were more equitable means to select who would be let go than the current methods.  For example, instead of length of time served with the company, relative level of management, or even perceived departmental value to the company, Arthur personally knew of individuals who were terminated after years of dedicated service simply because of a recent minor error in judgment or mistake that could easily have been fixed.  Much of it seemed related more to politics than skill or tenure.

Since it appeared that management was looking for excuses to get rid of various staff, Arthur felt that he couldn’t consider his job safe, and that he had only been lucky thus far.  He thought it was best to begin a job search, but quietly, because one of the “mistakes” that cost others to be let go was visibly job hunting.

Among the staff left behind, it was common for lunch room discussion to be about how lucky the remaining ones felt, not to have to be looking for another job in such a difficult market, and many lamented about the challenge being greater, “at my age.”  When Arthur shared his actual age during one of these discussions, the others were stunned and expressed that they all thought he was quite a bit older.

Arthur has a family trait of being prematurely gray, and upon learning that he clearly comes across as much older than he is, felt that this would hurt his chances while interviewing.  On the other hand, he was concerned that dyeing his hair would be a dead giveaway that he is interviewing, and his head would be next on the chopping block for the upcoming round of layoffs.

I advised Arthur to leave his discount haircut place and Fix It! by investing in a higher priced salon – one that he would have to visit very regularly.  Instead of having a different person cut his hair each time, he needed to build a relationship with a single professional stylist, and have her gradually take the gray out of his hair.

Setting up interviews would likely take a couple of months, I advised, and if his hair slowly lost its gray, it would be less noticeable at work.  Over time, he would probably be perceived as “more valuable” at his office, as well as during his upcoming interviews.

It took nearly a year, but Arthur avoided a couple more rounds of layoffs and kept his current position, while also interviewing, until he found another position with a smaller company that he felt was a better fit.

“It surprised me how many details I had to invest in during my job search — including items, effort and time.  Details that nobody thinks about before they begin, but are actually quite important in helping you reach your ultimate goal,” Arthur recounted.

Blanche* had a long and successful history of recruiting and managing volunteers.  She interviewed with an organization whose identity was strongly associated with community service and outreach, through volunteer service, and they had an opening for a senior volunteer manager position for their main project.

Blanche had made it to the final round of interviews and for this final meeting, she was given a good deal of detailed internal literature to review, in addition to the online research that she had already done.

What she learned while reviewing these materials the week before her final interview was that the site managers (and senior manager, when present) are expected to lead the volunteers at the start of each day’s work in a group prayer, as a motivation.

This disturbed Blanche, since there was nothing in the organization’s website or mission statement to indicate that it was a religious organization.  While she understood the need to motivate the troops, she could certainly see how someone might feel isolated, intimidated or even offended by feeling compelled to begin the day by participating in prayer.

Blanche herself had misgivings about leading a group in prayer as well, and it was clear from these final enclosures that it was part of her job description.   While she expected that she could explain that she wished to abstain and so forth, if this was part of their organizational identity, she realized that she probably wouldn’t be as effective in her job if she began by not participating in something they considered to be so important.  Mostly, though, she found the organization’s subversive tactics to be distasteful.

If they want to identify as a religious organization, why not do so, out in the open?  And, if they want to embrace all faiths, why compel others to participate – without warning – in a ritual that some may not believe in?

Blanche decided to Forget It! and she called the HR Director prior to the final interview, telling her that she wished to withdraw her candidacy.

Do you have a Fix It or Forget It? story to share?  Send it to me, and it might help others.  Identifying features will be altered prior to publishing.

___________________________________________________________________________________
Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment.
—  Rita Mae Brown

Similar Posts:

Rebecca* and Simone* adapt to the boss’ idiosyncrasies

See how Vicki* and Woody* deal with the unexpected

Opal* and Peter* respond when they don’t get what they should

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